While We Were Watching Downton Abbey
From the author of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach, a new novel of four friends— and a shared passion that could change their lives…
When the concierge of the Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building, invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings of Downton Abbey, four very different people find themselves connecting with the addictive drama, and—even more unexpectedly—with each other…
Samantha Davis married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money for herself and her orphaned brother and sister. She never expected her marriage to be complicated by love and compromised by a shattering family betrayal.
Claire Walker is now an empty nester and struggling author who left her home in the suburbs for the old-world charm of the Alexander, and for a new and productive life. But she soon wonders if clinging to old dreams can be more destructive than having no dreams at all.
And then there’s Brooke MacKenzie, a woman in constant battle with her faithless ex-husband. She’s just starting to realize that it’s time to take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that her life is not the fairy tale she thought it would be.
For Samantha, Claire, Brooke, and Edward, who arranges the weekly gatherings, it will be a season of surprises as they forge a bond that will sustain them through some of life’s hardest moments—all of it reflected in the unfolding drama, comedy, and convergent lives of Downton Abbey.
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey Excerpt
Today she was in New York with hours to kill before heading to the lake. At her daughter’s request they were having lunch at one of the fancier restaurants on the Upper East Side not far from the Carlyle, where her grandmother’s apartment had been and where she and Zoe had taken a hotel room. Emma sincerely hoped this would be the last time she’d be required to dress up to consume food for the next week.
As they entered, there was a muted stutter of surprise followed by a brief pause before conversation resumed. The other diners pretended not to notice them as they were shown to a white-cloth-covered table overlooking a walled garden. But if there was anything Emma knew how to recognize, it was an audience.
“Ms. Michaels.” The maître d’ smiled and pulled out her chair.
“Emma.” She smiled back, automatically mirroring his vaguely midwestern accent; she had been born and bred with a finely tuned ear and could do almost any American dialect, with the possible exception of the unnamed one on Swamp People, which even the locals required subtitles to understand. “Please. Call me Emma.”
He nodded and smiled again as he pulled out the other chair for Zoe. Her daughter was fifteen and had somehow ended up with far more than her fair share of the Michaels gene pool. Her thick red-gold hair was straight and chopped in angled layers that Emma’s curls refused to be ironed, blown, or wrestled into. She was even taller than her grandparents and aunts and uncles, and had the creamy skin, finely chiseled features, and gray-green eyes that attested to their English/Irish heritage. Emma’s complexion was only partly creamy and was sprinkled with nutmeg-colored freckles that not even the best studio makeup people could completely obliterate.
Emma had learned to make the most of what she had. But when you were the runt of the litter and looked more Cockerdoodle than Great Dane, you didn’t do Shakespeare. You didn’t star with Humphrey Bogart or James Stewart like her grandmother had. Or take direction from Mike Nichols or Stanley Kubrick like her mother. You didn’t even play the tragically damaged wife of an unfairly convicted murderer on death row, a part her sister Regan won an Oscar for. You played the girl who couldn’t quite get the guy. Or the spunky heroine who picked herself up after her husband left her and somehow finds a modicum of happiness as a greeter at Walmart. Emma had made a great living playing those kinds of parts. At forty-five she didn’t get quite as many romantic comedy leads as she used to, though it was possible she’d still be offered the occasional dimple-and-giggle part when she was white haired and stooped from arthritis. Not that her estranged parents and siblings would be any more impressed by her body of work then than they were now.
They looked over their menus, and Emma considered how best to say all the things she wanted to say to Zoe. Conciliatory things that would convince her once and for all that Emma loved her and only wanted what was best for her. Even though despite all efforts to the contrary, she’d somehow turned out to be almost as abysmal a parent as the mother and father she’d so publicly “divorced.” Uncertain, she reached for the bread. If she kept her mouth full she wouldn’t be able to say the things she needed to say. But she might not say the wrong thing, either.
In just a few hours the one week she used to look forward to most every year—her lake retreat with the two women she’d known longest and best—would begin. They were the only people on earth who really understood why she’d come to New York all those years ago. They were Zoe’s “fairy godmothers.” The only friends around whom she’d never needed to be “on” and who remembered Zoe as the little girl she’d carted from country to country and movie set to movie set. Her daughter’s memory of those happy years seemed to have disappeared along with her chubby cheeks and angelic smile.
If Mackenzie and Serena were here with them at the restaurant, Emma was pretty sure the bread she’d just swallowed wouldn’t be turning to lead in her stomach. She was counting on them to help her fix things with Zoe and then somehow, before they all went back to their real lives, Emma would have to find a way to finally share the secret she’d had no right to keep. Then she’d see her attorneys to finish off all the paperwork. Even a benign tumor made a person want to put things right.
They placed their orders. Their retreat, at which calorie counting had always been banned hadn’t officially begun so despite all the bread she’d already consumed, Emma ordered rabbit food. Zoe, who got the Michaels metabolism, which appeared to be unfairly tied to height, ordered a burger and fries.
“I spoke with Calvin,” Zoe said after the waiter left. Calvin Hardgrove, movie heartthrob, got top billing as Zoe’s father on her birth certificate but made only cameo appearances in Zoe’s life. “He said that he’d be away on location all summer but that if I want to stay in his guesthouse while I work on Teen Scream I can.”
Zoe’s lips tightened, but not enough to prevent a response. “Why not?”
Another basket of bread arrived. Emma managed to ignore it.
“Because you’re fifteen years old. You can’t live alone in a Malibu guesthouse without supervision. And I read the script. It calls for nudity.”
“But my character doesn’t undress. And it’s not gratuitous nudity,” she countered. “There’s a reason why the characters take off their clothes.”
Emma tried to sound calm but firm, but it was a stretch. “Yes, I believe that reason is so that they can have sex.”
Zoe quickly changed tack. “You’ve left me alone plenty of times when you’ve been on location.”
“I’ve left you with a sitter and a staff when I’ve had to,” Emma replied. And only after Zoe got too old to miss so much school. “That’s not the same thing at all.” It wasn’t, was it? Her voice faltered as she realized she was asking Zoe to accept things she’d never forgiven her own parents for. If Emma hadn’t had Gran, she would have been completely lost.
“You’re always trying to hold me back.” Zoe’s voice rose. It was a favorite complaint and one she’d clearly come to believe. She delivered it with conviction.
Emma knew her daughter could act. She was fairly certain she’d been emoting in the womb and she’d done really well at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She just didn’t think there was any reason to start a career so young. Nor did she think a teen exploitation film in which most of the characters would be screaming their heads off while naked was an acceptable first vehicle. And Emma should know. She’d walked away from childhood stardom, but that didn’t mean she didn’t remember every painful moment of it.
Their food arrived. She checked her watch and wondered if eleven thirty was too early for a drink.
“I’m trying to protect you, Zoe. If you decide you want to act, there’s plenty of time for that. After you finish school. Not before.”
“Sonya is tutored on set,” Zoe argued.
Sonya Craven was sixteen and had a regular role on Teen Bitch, er, Teen Witch. From what Emma had seen of Sonya—and her mother, with whom Emma had had the “pleasure” of performing—this was a clear case of typecasting and required almost no acting at all.
“You’re not Sonya. And I am not Sonya’s mother.” Their voices were rising.
“That’s such a cop-out.” Zoe quivered with righteous indignation. “At least Sonya’s mother nurtures her talent instead of trying to squash it.” Zoe’s eyes plumbed hers. She could feel her daughter’s awareness of the scene they were playing. When you were born into a theatrical family, there was no escaping theatrics.
Zoe put her glass down on the table and crammed a French fry into her mouth.
As emotional earthquakes went this wasn’t even a five on the Michaels Family Richter Scale. Compared to some of the rows that had taken place while Emma was growing up, it was barely a tremor. But there was something about the wrath of a fifteen-year-old girl to whom you’d given birth and loved more than you’d ever imagined you could love anyone, that could yank the ground right out from under your feet.
Emma glanced around the restaurant. At a Michaels family gathering this altercation would hardly be enough to make people stop chewing let alone end a meal. But the other diners had fallen silent and were no longer pretending they weren’t listening. It wasn’t every day you got to watch this kind of performance between two members of the Michaels family without buying a ticket.
“Oh, what’s the point?” Zoe, who knew intuitively how to end a scene and make an exit, removed the napkin from her lap, dropped it on the table, and scraped back her chair. “I’m out of here.”
Emma put some bills on the table as she stood. Then she was speed walking out of the silent restaurant. The last time Zoe had stormed off she made it onto a cross-country flight from LAX to Serena’s in New York City.
Emma’s heart beat frantically as she shoved open the door. Out on the sidewalk she saw Zoe already across the street and two blocks down. This was the Upper East Side of New York not West LA, but Zoe was a fifteen-year-old girl and bad things happened in expensive neighborhoods every day.
Her eyes on her daughter, who was studiously ignoring her, Emma began to sprint across the street. Which was when something hard slammed into her with the force of a freight train and sent her hurtling into the air. She flipped a couple of times, bounced off what might have been the roof or trunk of a car, and slammed into the concrete. Stray thoughts filtered through her head; she empathized with Humpty Dumpty. She congratulated herself for having on clean underwear.
There was no pain, which definitely seemed wrong. She heard feet running and voices and then a siren in the distance. It occurred to her that she could die, and regret flooded through her. She’d already cheated death once. Now she’d never get the chance to prove to her daughter how much she loved her. Never see Mackenzie or Serena again. Her last thoughts began to run together: She should have scheduled the attorney before they left for the lake. Should have confessed the secret she’d been carrying. Should have begged forgiveness. Should have . . .
Darkness descended. Panic came with it. There was something she was supposed to take care of. Something that would alter the lives of the people who meant the most to her.
Her world was going black. And she couldn’t for the life of her remember what it was.
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey Reviews
“What do you get when you mix one dashing British concierge with three lonely women from diverse backgrounds, set them all in a historic apartment building in Midtown Atlanta, then turn on the television? What you get, actually, is quite a clever, fun little novel. And could Wendy Wax be any more clever naming it While We Were Watching Downton Abbey? That title alone is reason enough to pick up the book and see what the heck is going on.”
—Craig Wilson, USA Today
“While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a tribute to the transformative power of female friendship, and reading Wendy Wax is like discovering a witty, wise, and wonderful new friend.”
—Claire Cook, bestselling author of Must Love Dogs and Time Flies
“Wax breaks from her Ten Beach Road series to indulge her obsession with the popular British television show Downton Abbey in her latest novel . . . [her] trendy premise makes for a surprisingly poignant and enjoyable story about friendship. Readers need not be fans of the show to enjoy this tale, but they may relate more to the characters’ infatuation if they are.”
“In the style of Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austen Book Club,” Wendy Wax’s novel follows the story of three women who live in the same Atlanta apartment building and form a bond through a common love of all things Downton Abbey . . . engrosses its reader in the drama of these women’s love lives and emotional struggles. Perhaps most refreshing is that the resolution for each woman comes not from “finding a man,” but in finding themselves and strengthening each other through an unexpected sisterhood.”
“You needn’t be a fan of Downton Abbey to enjoy While We Were Watching [Downton Abbey] . . the show . . . [is an] excuse to create a realistic friendship of such depth and strength, even the Dowager Duchess would approve.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Whether you love Downton Abbey or not, you’ll fall in love with these characters.”
“Wendy Wax’s fresh approach to an entertaining story line hooks us with the idea that other things could happen ‘while we were watching “Downton Abbey.” ’ It is hard to imagine that other lives, besides [Downton Abbey’s] . . . would catch our attention. But they do . . . the bond of friendship and the responsibilities and rights within that bond are the heart of the novel . . . honesty in any relationship is vital, and Wax shows this truth in downtown Atlanta alongside the engrossing story of ‘Downton Abbey.’’
“Are you and your friends still discussing the fate of poor Matthew on the last episode of Downton Abbey? Then you’ll no doubt identify with . . . Wendy Wax’s While We Were Watching Downton Abbey . . . Fans of Wax’s Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach know Wax knows what breaks and makes friendships.”
—Nancy Pate, On A Clear Day I Can Read Forever
“‘While We Were Watching Downton Abbey’, really pulled me in . . . This is a really fun read and I highly recommend it.”
—Night Owl Reviews
“While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a delightful novel of unexpected friendships and bonds. Downton Abbey first brings the characters together, but it’s not what keeps them together. Similarly, I read this novel because of the Downton Abbey connection, but I ended up enjoying it for its own characters.”
“If you’re a fan of the highly popular PBS British drama, Downton Abbey, you will love Wax’s latest novel . . . This warm and charming novel about struggling to redefine yourself will be your perfect escape this spring break.”
—Lisa Steinke, She Knows
“While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a grand, well-paced contemporary read definitely deserving to be on the best seller list!!! Great writing!”
“I love how Wendy really has her pulse on women’s friendships and real-life situations. I felt that I could have sat down with these three characters on any given Sunday evening and left with life-long friends!”
—Life in the Thumb
“Gifted author Wendy Wax introduces her readers to a bevy of entertaining characters and a decidedly different plot set in an extraordinary apartment building. Readers will immediately relate to the women in WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBY as soul sisters. Wax has an incredible knack for taking vulnerable looking characters and developing them into women with hidden strengths. And jumping on the popular Downton Abby craze is ingenious and fun, exactly like her book. Five stars for this delightful read, WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBY by Wendy Wax!”
“Wax excels at using humor, bits of local color, and multiple, complex female protagonists, and she uses all of these to good effect here . . . I also loved, as I typically do with Wax’s novels, the memorable lines that say a great deal in a sentence or two . . . If you like women’s fiction that makes you smile, warms your heart, and reminds you why friendship matters, this book is definitely one you will enjoy.”
“Beautifully drawn, the true-to-life characters felt like people I wanted to know. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what would happen next, and even as I finished, I definitely wanted to read more about them . . . a complex story of human flaws and foibles and the bonds that develop between people, sustaining them through the tough times. Five stars.”
—Curl Up and Read
“I would love to sit down and join in with these ladies – and Edward – when they have their pizza and wine nights.”
—Dew on the Kudzu
“What do you get when you put together Downton Abbey, the American South, three women, and an attractive concierge? Gold. Pure plot gold . . . Wax has brought together the drama of the show with a modern life take of women who are going through dramas of their own . . . I highly recommend this book to all fans of great and witty fiction.”
—Book Addict Katie
“I thought the premise of this book was very interesting because of the Downton Abbey angle but the book is about so much more than the show . . . I enjoyed While We Were Watching Downton Abbey . . . I only wish I could live atthe Alexander and be part of the club!”
“I devoured this novel in a couple of days. I love novels that explore the rich relationships of women. I enjoyed getting to know all the characters and was curious to find out how everything would work out for them. In addition, the nods to Downton Abbey made me smile, reminding why I love the show and easing the loss as I await season 4.”
—5 Minutes for Books
“A story that has characters with complexity and secrets, moments of utter embarrassment and sheer frivolity . . . their story is just as enchanting and transfixing as the one on the screen.”
—I Am, Indeed
“As an avid, borderline obsessive fan of Downton Abbey, I knew I had to read this book . . . just like the show, this book had so much charm that it was impossible to put down . . . heart warming . . . the concierge Edward adds a British charm that you can’t help but smile at. If you’re looking for a light, fun read . . .I’d definitely recommend picking this one up . . . charming . . . bound to touch the heart of anyone who reads it.”
—Peace, Love, Books
“A true-to-life fiction tale of living life and building relationships . . . Wax creatively pulls together each character’s issues and connects it to the lives on the show. It is more than just a fun read or refreshing—it is just plain GOOD!”
— From the Nightstand
“Beautifully drawn, the true-to-life characters felt like people I wanted to know. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what would happen next, and even as I finished, I definitely wanted to read more about them. Perhaps in a sequel. While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is a complex story of human flaws and foibles and the bonds that develop between people, sustaining them through the tough times. Five stars!”
—Rainy Days & Mondays
“I thoroughly enjoyed the backgrounds of each individual . . . I absolutely fell in love with Edward. I recommend this book to those who loved Downtown Abbey as well as those who haven’t watched the show . . . if you like books about friendships, hurdles in life, a little romance, starting over again, finding love, keeping it, along with a touch of humor, I think you’ll enjoy this book. I certainly did.”
—A Reader’s Journal
“This book has everything that Wax does so wellmazing character development, humor and shows the depth of female friendships. Again, Wax has knocked it out of the park. And, I must say that Edward the concierge is so like Carson in Downton Abbey.”
“I was sent this book to review and I loved it. This book shows the value of friendship and how something like a tv show can bring different people together that wouldn’t have met otherwise . . .This was a new author to me and I highly recommend this book and this author to anyone who wants a book keeps you reading no matter the hour.”
—As the Page Turns